Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Surfeit of OSR

Oh my, there are just too many interesting ideas lately.  I'm having trouble absorbing them all.  Heck, a lot of times I'll read something intriguing, post a comment, and then forget where I posted the comment because there are too many freaking good blogs.

I want to just go up to the mountains and digest it all for a bit, but I can't yet.  I thought I was going to do that when I was housesitting last week, but alas I have a smart phone and I was reading your blogs anyway, just on a smaller screen.

Here, I'll volley a few ideas back at you all.  Sometimes I worry people are thinking "what the heck do all these silhouettes have to do with D&D?"
I showed one possible use of them to try and clarify the transmission of information.  Here are two more possibilities:

Towards a Heist Map
The Knights of the Order of the Holy Rood take all heretics that worship St Cecily back to the church that legend says she was burned to death in.  Your players want to save one of these heretics.  She will be held there a week to pray and reflect on her sins, then burned at the stake.  Your players have watched from afar.  They know where the guards tend to be.

Towards a Wilderness Map with Iconic Monsters
This springs off of Roger's cool work here. This is nothing new, war games had those little, iconic chits long ago, just a matter of finding unencumbered and iconic images that everyone in the community can use.  Imagine if Hexographer let you plop these down.  (I cut out too much of Roger's info, but if we made the hexes a little larger I think we could add some back while keeping it clean.)

Okay, everyone stop blogging for a while, you're going to melt down my brain. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The Stitcher has the torso of a plump, middle-aged woman and the lower half of a giant pillbug.  It wields foot-long, steel needles and produces its own wire-like thread.  A successfull attack on a foe does little damage but will stitch that foe's:
  1. Shield Arm --> Torso
  2. Weapon Arm --> Torso
  3. Leg --> Leg
  4. Shield Arm --> Ally's Weapon Arm
  5. Weapon Arm --> Ally's Shield Arm
  6. Leg --> Ally's Leg
The Stitcher will try to immobilize all foes before slowly devouring them live. When hit in combat it will plead and wheedle to try and get out of the pain, while continuing to attack.  If hurt enough it will recede into its armored shell.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Phone a Friend NPCs

So the point is to have fun with a group of friends, right?  But one player couldn't make it because she has to cover somebody at work or he has to stay home with a sick kid.  What if you could call them up for a few minutes and include them just for fun?

How?  Well, that part I'm not too sure.  I'm imagining some party game type questions.  Maybe have a bunch of generic questions on cards and players have to pick ones that they think will elicit the answers they want from this particular npc (Yes/No/#s) when asked of the phone-a-friend.

"Have you ever driven down a street the wrong way . . . while sober?  How many cats have you owned in your life?"

I don't know, maybe something else.  Whaddya think?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Silhouettes VIII

In this installment we see our first thief!  And two gentlemen from the order of the lantern and stick.  This time, I thought I'd share the source pictures because they were so nice in their own right.  First, something waits in the shadows:
And here is the figure cut out:
This shows a man on the moon coming across a village, hopefully not of those damn Mooninites:
His figure:
And now the silhouette that's had some reconstructive surgery so he looks more like he's on flat ground:
Here's the thief:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Your Biggest DMing Screw Up?

Okay, I spent a lot of time envisioning how this dungeon of mine changes as it rotates through space.  There's sand shifting, there's water slopping about, and hinged brass plaques.  I feel like I got this down.  I remembered a list of things Zak said he included in designing his own adventures.  One was, something that could throw everything off the rails if the players mess with it, forcing him to improvise.

Okay, I thought, I'll put a lever in the center of this dungeon that will change the axis of the dungeon's rotation.

 And lo, he said,

"Let the dungeon tumble!"    

First session, they pulled it and put it back in its first position.  Later, the same.  Last night they pulled it and left it.  And I realized I hadn't thought this through. . . my hallway of four spheres has no way of keeping the stone boulders from falling and crushing the alchemist's bed below them once that hallway becomes a vertical shaft.  The water will also fall out of the well room via its hallway now become a shaft under it.  Ditto the sand.  Arrgh, I'm just wavin' my hands like crazy now until they get out of this place: "The stone spheres are floating above you . . "  Damn my hubris.

So, I'm curious what was your biggest DMing screw up was.  Please.  Be honest, this is a safe place . . .

Update: Thanks for the comments so far.  I thought I'd add this pic to demonstrate what should have happened if I hadn't pretended it hadn't.  The water is pouring out the opening, down the hallway there, and off into the rest of the dungeon:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Into the Tumbling Dungeon II

I ended up running a session with only 2 players yesterday.  It evoked a weird feeling for someone who used not have anyone to play with.  I enjoy the social aspect of our sessions, and spend so much time developing the material, just two players seemed kind of like having a party with just two people-- what's the point.  But we played, it was fun, I think I creeped them a little (that really isn't my only goal, but it seems easier than others).

Toral DP
Gail MU
Zhang Ziyang NPC

Alone in the Tumbling Dungeon they dithered and went back and forth a lot.  They found a passage with four spheres sunk in the floor, made their way past it and found a new room.  Black walls with crystals embedded in them, it looked like a night sky.  A bed on gyroscope-like gimbals in the middle, the floor covered with a writhing mass of giant grubs.  They turned back.  They'd been getting pretty blasé about the dungeon's tumbles and a little later found themselves caught midway down a passage that was quickly becoming a vertical shaft.

Sliding the last bit, they fell ~20' into soft sand.  The lantern went out.  The three of them sat their catching their breath.  In the darkness, only the sounds of four people breathing.  Four!  Toral tried pray unsuccessfully for light.  The witch touched his neck, whispered "You are unwanted."  She mentioned they must be weaker than she had thought.  Gail agreed, "Oh yes, we aren't powerful at all," assuming she saw the powerful as a threat.  "Weak enough for me to slit open your bellies?" she asked.  Gail frantically relit the lantern.  It's light filled the room to reveal something crawling quickly up the the shaft out of view.  Zhang Ziyang was gone.

They dithered a little more but eventually figure the way out. Back on the beach the sailors of the junk Haiyan are slowly dying of plague.  After resting the night, Toral prayed for healing in his broken arm and was answered, then prayed to have his plague removed and was answered!  But they both know the sailors will die in a few days, miracles are uncertain, and the healing root and the one who knows how to prepare it are both back in the dungeon.


Some Thoughts

More training for me on roleplaying npcs.  I know if the witches confront these folks, the witches will most likely end up dead.  So, when I rolled one an encounter I figured she was shadowing, shadowing.  "What will she do?" I was wracking my brains, then the dingleberries got so careless with the dungeon they ended up in a hallway they should have know was about to become a shaft.  An viola, perfect.  She's there in the darkness with them.

What now?  Especially because there's another session tonight which will involve a much larger party.  I'm thinking the witches will leave a root and instructions to prepare it in the first room of the dungeon.  They just want these fools out of here.  Of course it will be poison and written in ZZ's hand who is charmed by them now.

Also, the grubs are a dud.  I made them slow moving, and basically harmless, as long as you don't try to hurt them or let them crawl up your leg.  I think they need to start turning into beetles of some horrible sort.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I haven't mentioned it, but I love the Links to Wisdom wiki.  It allows for innovative, interesting ideas to bubble up and be noticed and it's done in a way that allows for even completely contradictory approaches to the game to be side by side.  (It's only weakness is that it is only links. Read that stuff and if you like something save a copy).

So, I've been digging back through the intellectual rat's nest that is my hard drive looking for things to post there.  I have a suspicion that I've already forgotten some cool blog posts I read, but I did post some links to stuff I found really intriguing.

I also found a bunch of text files with quotes.  There doesn't seem to be a place for them on the wiki, so I thought I might post them here.  No particular order or mission, just things people in the blogosphere wrote that struck me enough to save:
"I have no interest in the "comfort" of having a few simple choices or a pre-generated premise. I have an interest in investing creativity in character creation (if I feel like it) or in strategy (if I feel like that instead) or in world-building (if I feel like that) or in role-playing (if I feel like that). I am not into D&D because it is limiting, I'm into it because if I choose to neglect one aspect of RPGing, the game swells to fill the gap, leaving me free to concentrate my energy wherever I want." – ZakS
"The D&D is that is almost not D&D is the true D&D" – Chris, Vaults of Nagoh                      
"Yes, if I had to identify a general tendency over time for designers to make changes it would be to rationalize and codify, smoothing away complexity – which does involve an abstract perspective that places concept over play experience. Players’ changes either tend to simplify and discard (ignoring encumbrance, speed factors, weapon vs. AC, etc.) or to make PCs more durable (allowing death at negative HP instead of 0, fudging rolls)." – Tavis Allison
What do you do with 3d6-in-order when you want to play a Paladin?

"   Ideally you experience an epiphany (perhaps involving swelling orchestra music, an angelic choir and/or a beam of pure radiance) wherein you realize that "wanting to play X" is completely incompatible with 3d6 in order. Instead, your heart is opened to the joy of playing the infinitely possible characters available to you, one of whom will eventually soldify out of the quantum foam when you throw the dice. With your new Buddha-like grace you simply play the character you roll.

    Personally I loathe all the canonical cheating methods. I think there are two and exactly two legit ways to generate scores for D&D characters:

    1) 3d6 in order
    2) write down whatever numbers you like

    Anybody stuck on "wants to play a X" should be using the second method. I've used this method before. One guy wrote down all 18's, including 18/00 Str. Somehow, we all survived the experience." – Jeff Rients  March 31, 2011 2:00 PM
"It's not D&D's fault that its character classes are mostly taken from stories of solo heroics and picaresque capers, while its overarching conceit is Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring. Without the Big Quest a party of Conans, Grey Mousers, Rhialtos and Holger Carlsens is going to fall apart if each of them pursues their character destiny." – Roger the GS
 "  I think D&D works like this: the rules, setting, and DM are relatively serious (or at least intense) so you--the player--don't have to be. You can be drunk and play the goofiest half-troll half-gnome bard in the world and the game will keep chugging along and being a game full of twists and challenges and unexpected delights for all (including the drunk gnome) because it's pre-loaded with serious business." – ZakS                                    

"    I agree with this assessment. As long as the DM is taking the game seriously the players can fart around in several different ways and you still have a game of D&D. N.B. Taking the game seriously is not the same as being a humorless prick. That's taking yourself seriously, which is not helpful." – Jeff Rients
     "Heh. I’ve been known to say this in defense of 3e: It showed me what I want by giving me what I thought I wanted. (^_^)" – Robert Fisher April 20, 2008 3:27 PM
What is the Best Beginner Module?

"    Young or adult players? New or experienced DM? I see at least 4 possible ideal starter modules.

young players, new DM = Search for the Unknown (great advice for DMs)
young players, experienced DM = Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (every kid needs to learn the lessons taught by Scooby Doo)
adult players, new DM = Hommlet (superior social environ, simple but challenging dungeon)
adult players, experienced DM = Keep (multidimensional, open-form social, dungeon and wilderness) " – Jeff Reints June 22, 2010 3:50 PM

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Petitions & Diminishing Returns II

Okay, here's my next draft of how to handle these in my campaign.  Keep in mind this isn't just about praying to gods, you could use this system for any kind of magic/technology you wanted to have less likely to work the more you used it.  Here are two charts:

Multiple Petitions
First, you get a certain number of possible petitions every other level.

The brighter colors in the chart are newly possible petitions, the duller colors are those carried over as a character gains levels. So, a 4th level character has 2 possible petitions at the 70% level. They gain another at 5th level.

No petition ever has more than 70% chance of succeeding.  You can see a 1st level petitioner has 1 of each type of chance. So a request to Heal Light Wounds would have a 70% chance of being answered and, regardless of it being answered, a 2nd attempt to Heal Light Wounds would have a 30% chance of being answered.  A third request would be at 15% and then the petitioner would be done.

Well, except I liked Forrest's suggestion that they be able to get into some trouble by asking for too much.  So I added the last dire petition, the "crying from the depths" for aid.  I'll make a table with possible consequences, like being covered with boils, becoming mute, or being unable to ask for aid for a set number of sessions.

More Powerful Miracles
Simple enough?  The system becomes a little more complicated by the fact that you can "stretch" for aid that is really above your ability to ask for.  At any level a petitioner can ask for aid up to two orders of miracle (think spell level) higher than his or her ability.

So, if our example 1st level petitioner above asks to Hold an enemy, a 2nd order miracle, it will use up the normal 70% chance and require the 30% chance to shift one columns to the right, to the more powerful 2nd order.  If that petitioner wants to Heal Light Wounds after that, regardless of whether the Hold was successful or not, they only have a 15% chance petition left now.  And they just can't ask for anything more powerful than a first order miracle.

One of my players has been confused about what she could or couldn't do, but I'm hoping this will make it clearer.  Two possible additions of complexity:

From the start I was allowing the petitioners to ask for 3 small things a day.  Basically this was limited to a +/- 1 to one individual-- a save, a to hit roll.  Even those these are tiny, it keeps the clerics thinking of ways they can engage spiritually rather than just whacking stuff.  And they've done this too.

Saint-like Abilities
I just thought of this the other day.  I'm thinking that at 4th and 8th level, petitioners will be granted a permanent ability of their choosing.  I'm hoping these saint-like powers will make the petitioners more interesting.  I asked one player yesterday what he would choose and he said he wouldn't mind having a permanent, glowing halo of light above his head.  Cool by me.

And that's it for my Petitioner powers.

I've also been intending to come up with a negotiated system of creeds and vows with these players so that they have some roleplaying constraints they have to abide by in order for their petitions to be heard.  Maybe if this clarification of petitions is clear, I'll move on to the vows and creeds next.

Update: I just commented in regards to a table the other day about how I thought it made more sense to have levels ascend on a chart and then I made this one.  I guess when making a text chart in a word processor it makes sense that you start from the top and go down, but when I read a visual chart my eye assumes the lower left corner to be 0,0.  Anyway, when fiddling with that I thought my players will really want to see the diminishing returns, well, diminish as you read down the chart too.  So here is another draft I'll try on my players today:

Update 2: I never know whether to make a whole new post or just update the relevant one. This is minor so I'll put it here, a grayscale version of the Player chart for those of you without a color printer (like me):

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Highlights - Simple Domino Mechanic

I'm going to be housesitting for friends the next few days and since I'm also approaching 600 posts I thought it might be a good time to slow down and reflect on some of the stuff I've blogged about.  I'll start with stuff I've used in my game and share my experiences with them.  So, let's start with something from a year ago:

Simple Domino Mechanic
This allows my Divine-petitioners to ask for aid with a diminishing likelihood of the requests being answered.  I need to ask my players how it feels to be denied at times, but they don't seem disgruntled.

I've also allowed them to ask for aid above their level of ability, with each additional order of miracle (what I call their levels) reducing likelihood of answer by a step.  This has been cool, with one party avoiding a TPK only because a cleric miraculously Held some foul creatures.

The combination of uncertainty of answer and fuzziness of "level" has made clerics work more the way I think they should and makes them feel completely different than Magic-users.

Difficulties with the Diminishing Returns Mechanic
There have been a few difficulties with the diminishing returns, though.  First, allowing it to apply to multiple prayer requests (down) and more powerful requests (across) can make it harder for players to know which step they are at. They may have asked for Hold Person (2nd order) and now they're asking to Heal Light Wounds (1st order).  I'm thinking of giving them a poker chip of a certain color to represent the chance of their next petition succeeding.

Second, you can't really apply Jeff's big purple d30 rule to dominoes.  Although, talking with my player, she said, "Yeah, you let me roll it instead of drawing." So I guess I made a ruling on the fly converting probability to a result on the d30.  Heh, I don't remember doing it.  Maybe I'm a good DM but just don't remember it away from the table :)

The third difficulty is the thorniest-- how to scale these diminishing returns to level.  I'm still working on an answer to this. As the highest level DP is just now 3rd level and they don't ask for aid all that often, I've gotten by, but it needs to be solved.

Using the Bones
As far as the logistics of using the dominoes, they work great.  Get yourself a set of thick, bone-like, plastic ones, no colored pips, no travel size.  Get yourself a sheet of green craft felt.  Have the player shake them up and pull when they ask for aid.  There is something oracular about it and more involved than a die roll.  Sucks when God doesn't heal your plague, but it's cool when God gives you a golden halo of holy light when you're in a dungeon with a roaming witch and you have a broken arm.

At first I thought I would need a set of bones for each DP being played, but unless you have a super big group or table, it doesn't take long to slide them over, and it adds to the drama.

Final Thoughts
If you're playing a one-off game with clerics of low level I don't see any reason not to try it out.  If you're planning on a whole campaign, you need to think about the level problem.

I think the reluctance to use a diminishing resource (and the chance that it might fail) has made Divine magic a rare thing in my campaign.  This makes clerics more like constrained fighters.

I'm thinking of adding permanent saint-like abilities at key levels (5th/9th?), so characters might be able to permanently talk to animals, or lay on hands once a day, or whatever players want to negotiate with me.  This could add a little more power back to the class as well as help them fulfil my vision of the archetype.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tactile Maps II

I wanted to play around with tactile maps a little more.  So, using the system of notification here, I made a treasure map for module B1 In Search of the Unknown.  I used the small image of the tactile map from Greenland as a source, so the resolution is pretty crappy.  Anyway, a shifty fellow in a tavern sells you this:
Where would it lead you on here:
I think your best bet in using these in your own game would be to get some thick, corrugated cardboard, cut the actual map into it, and hand it to the players so they can feel it. 

Oh, and put it inside a bag, so they can only feel it if they are supposedly using it in the dark in-game.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Welcome, TYWKIWDBI readers.  I thought it was nice for Minnesotastan to allow readers to share their own blogs.  And I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce someone outside of my regular community to some of the cool stuff going on with old school D&D these days.

I play a heavily houseruled Dungeons & Dragons game about once a week. A lot my ruminations here are about DIY gaming, houseruling aimed at streamlining play, and making the game my own.  If that sounds good to you, I've got a lot of tables, charts, and thoughts on design you can check out in my archives.

But an even better place to start might be to get yourself a set of rules so you can start DIY too.  If you remember D&D as looking like this:
You might try Swords & Wizardry.  You can download a free pdf of the rules here.

If what you remember looks more like this:
Labyrinth Lord might be a better fit.  You can download a free pdf of those rules here.

If you had a lot of experience playing with these:
You can find a good compilation of all three in something called OSRIC here.

If you'd like to read about other old roleplaying games you remember (Science Fiction, Super Hero, etc) or pulp fantasy Grognardia is a good site to check out and also a hub with a lot of links to our community.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Procedural Lockpicking

Arkhein asked how to make lockpicking interesting.  Here's my attempt:

Your thief knows four ways to manipulate locks:
  • Bump
  • Probe
  • Rake
  • Twist
And that's it.  She knows the wrong actions might Jam the lock permanently preventing it from being picked or opened with a key.  She also knows some locks have a Trap with bad things happening to those that set it off by failing to pick properly.

But maybe she also knows you never Bump a Dwarven lock, ever.  And you never start a brass lock with a Twist.  And maybe as she gains experience (levels) she can Bump and still recompose herself when she realizes that was the wrong thing to do.
In this picture, a correct choice will move along the grey track to the next choice.  A wrong choice will result in the lock feeling stiff (a warning) and the thief can either choose the correct action from there or face the consequences.

A DM might have a whole folder full of locks-- different difficulties, different makes. The players would not see these images, but hear a description-- "It is a heavy brass lock, with a D inscribed on it."

Update: I got all excited this morning because I woke up with what I thought was a solution to generating these easily and then I realized Zak had already proposed it in his comment. Anyway, yeah, assign a number to each of the lockpicking verbs, the "moves," roll 3d4 and the results tell you which the thief has to use.  Use dice in a color progression and you know the order the lock requires them in:
So, for that roll, starting from white we get Rake, Probe, Bump, Bump.  But that just gives us a very simple (and unforgiving) lock that assumes it jams if the thief uses the wrong verb.  To complicate this, it seems like it depends on how common you want traps to be.  On a wrong move by the player, we might then roll a 1d6 and a 5=jammed, a 6=trapped, and the other numbers indicate a move to avoid jamming: "Oh, she was supposed to Bump and didn't, now she can salvage this attempt with a Rake otherwise it Jams."

But, all this fiddling is not getting us much for the player above just rolling a 25 on d%, so it would be essential that you as DM:
  • Have locks of certain types, that players can gain expertise on.  This is contradictory to our method of generation, but if you say that all brass locks start with Probe, you could then just randomly determine the other tumblers for that lock.
  •  Give some kind of advantages with level, that would allow for some skill at the game.  Like "one free get out of a Jam," or "Reveal the move on one tumbler in any lock."
Zombiecowboy asked about Bump and Rake.  The verbs here are just abstractions, but abstractions that are conceivably related to lockpicking so you can hang your roleplaying on them (those two provisions bulletpointed above.  You could use any verbs that would help you do this in your world.  I actually needed a fourth verb and just looked at the lockpicking page on Wikipedia to find "rake." But Pry, Tap, and Spin could work just as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rumor Mad Libs - Fillable PDF

My form making abilities continue to grow.  Soon you will not be able to contain me, haha.  Almost a year ago, while trying to get a handle on rumors I went back through a lot of TSR modules and looked closely at what the rumors amounted to.
Rumor Mad Libs was the result.  Nothing too spicy, just that filling old school flavor.  Now you can fill these out and print five minutes before your players arrive.  Get it here.  PS thanks to rainswept for helping me turn it up to 11.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Have Some Pics

Here is another silhouette, possibly mage or cleric:
Here is a nice portrait for an npc:
And a sea giant, or maybe the dreaded Bathing Giant:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blueprint for a Lich

Recently James at the Underdark Gazette posted about Ed Greenwood's great articles on adventuring in Hell.  I love that illustration that begins that first article, but I never read them.  Because of that picture and the Paladin in Hell illustration in the PHB I had a craving for some adventure down below, so I had an arrangement with my DM not to read about Hell and learn all its secrets.

But it was just something James mentioned that sparked this post.  Speculating on why these great articles weren't included in the Best of the Dragon compilations:
"I can only suppose that the TSR policy of appeasing the Satanic Panic crowd, kept them from including the articles in one of their Best of compilations."
It's a good theory considering the times, but my mind immediately jumped to my favorite magazine Dragon ever put out: Best of Dragon Vol. II.  That was chock full of awesome possibilities as well as lots for evangelists to abhor.  There was the Antipaladin for one, the section on poisons, and actually an article on the politics of Hell by Alexander von Thorn.

But what I want to focus on was related to another thing I always wanted to achieve in D&D, and like venturing into Hell, never managed to do-- becoming a lich.

To cut to the chase, there was a little comic that ran under several articles depicting a mage in the process of becoming a lich.  It was drawn by Timothy Truman.  And the beauty of the design was the layout that had it running under relevant articles.  Two pages into an article about vampires, the strip starts with a mage entering the lair of a vampire (pg 57).  Then two pages later, under a different article about vampires we see the mage defeating the vampire.  Two pages later, under a page about lycanthropy, we see our hero killing two werewolves.  And finally, two pages later we're at the article on becoming a lich called Blueprint for a lich and our hero nestles into a coffin of his own.

I thought about presenting the comics here for you, but the beauty of it was how they went so perfectly with the reprinted articles.  Putting them in sequence won't recreate what I experienced first seeing them.  All I can recommend is that if you see it, snap it up.

I don't know who made the design decision to run the strip under the articles the way they did, but I'm thankful to whoever it was.  The credits at the front of the magazine list:

Edited by Kim Mohan

Design by Bryce Knorr

Production by Marilyn Mays & Gali Sanchez

It seems a shame, after all, to talk about this without you seeing any of it so here is the first section as a teaser:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Into the Tumbling Dungeon of the Grand Alchemist

I'm a behind in these, first session took place March, 8, 2011 second one was this past Friday.

Gail MU
Athydas MU
Mollie DP
Toral DP
Torie hireling
"G" F
Le Bouche hireling
Janis hireling
"Z" F
Pita hireling
Mika hireling
Fabrino hireling
Darkyo F
Zhang Ziyang NPC

Half of the crew of the junk Haiyan has contracted the plague.  The captain becomes worried that if many more become ill they might end up adrift at sea, so they head near shore.  They see a carven structure in the reddish rock that corresponds to a point on their map.  Setting ashore, Toral builds a fire, Gail and Mollie scout for water sources, and the rest immediately begin poking around the opening of the structure.

Two giant black scorpions erupt out of the darkness, the fighters and hirelings manage to form a shield wall in front of them. Even so, Le Bouche has to sacrifice a shield to save his life.

The rest of the party reluctantly follows the fighters into the dungeon.  The first room is a perfect 30'x30' cube with rubble in one corner and one exit to the right.  The wall has a fresco that Zhang Ziyang says is alchemical in nature.  A hallway leads to another similar room and fresco, this room has 10' of sand on the floor, however, and an exit to the left.

A hallway leads to a spherical room with three more exits and an odd pedestal in turning in the center.  Beside the pedestal is a lever. Darkyo pulls and pushes the lever (to Gail and Mollie's chagrin). The party decides to head right, the hall has oddly corrugated walls with inscriptions painted on each panel.  They reach a room with a coracle floating in a pool of water. It has an inscription in Arabic script that they can't read.

Back to the spherical room and the whole places starts shifting.  They scuttle along on the round surface until the dungeon stops shifting.  Now the spherical room has a shaft leading directly up, a shaft leading directly down and the odd corrugations turned out to be stairs, to the right, down, to the left, up.

The party heads down the stairs to the coracle room.  It is now full of water up to the door and there is a circular passage in the North wall.  They use the coracle to reach the opening, travel down it and find a tightly closed brass hatch.  Opening it revealed a small room with shelves full of dusts and powders.  ZZ recognized some of them and said he might be able to fashion a cure for the plague with a certain root as well.

End first session

Gail MU
Mollie DP
Toral DP
Torie hireling
Zhang Ziyang NPC
showed up halfway through:
"Z" F
Pita hireling
Mika hireling
Fabrino hireling (played by visiting player)

Most of the party decided to head back to the ship to check on things.  The four left behind decided to head up the stairs to the West.  At the top, lantern light showed a cubic room covered in brass with raised marking.  In the far corners were two humanoid figures just out of the light.  The party heard the sound of breathing.  After much dithering they decided to go back the other way.  In the spherical room trying to decide what to do next, they heard whispering and everyone except Gail crumpled to the ground asleep.  Gail whipped around to see a woman crawling on the ceiling of the stairs they just came from, her filthy hair hanging underneath her.  He got off three darts, one barely nicking her before she uttered something unholy and he froze.

The figure scrambled to him and bound his hands.  Then Gail worked furiously at his bonds as she drug Torie, clanking down the stairs toward the water.  Splash.  The figure returned to drag Mollie down to the water.  Splash.  Finally, hands free, Gail ran frantically into the darkness of the stairway (forgot the lantern).  On the way down he felt dirty hair across his face and . . . he ran right into the water.  Flailing around, he managed to grab Mollie and was trying to pull her back onto the stairs, when he was bit hard by something on his calf.  He started to push Mollie's stomach to get the water out.  She woke to complete darkness, soaking wet, with someone striking her.  Her hefty blow just missed Gail. Praying to her earth mother, Mollie summoned a fairy fire to light their way.  Back in the spherical room, Toral and ZZ were gone and . . . the dungeon started turning again.

About this time, from the South, Z and his hirelings showed up.  Fabrino, a foreigner who speaks no common was leading a goat.  The party headed to the West, what was once again a level passage with corrugated walls.  Peering in the room they saw two figures prone, one on the North wall, one on the South.  Each had their backs turned and faces turned down, toward where the wall meets the floor.

Thinking it a trap, the party decided to leave them be.  They returned to the sphere and headed North now.  A large cubic room with spikes covering the walls to the East and North.  On the ground were three translucent grubs the size of cats.  Z kicked one hard into the spikes and then doubled over in pain.  The grub seemed unharmed.  The party carefully skirted them to check the passage to the West.  A 10' diameter stone sphere blocked the way.  Mollie stripped off her leather armor and forced herself through the crack, hump and all ( she has low charisma, decided she has a hump).  There she found another sphere and turned around.  The party headed back to the spherical room and the dungeon turned again.

This turn slammed a huge hinged brass wall piece onto Toral, breaking his arm.  Awake he heard ZZ trapped nearby and helped him.  A prayer to the Allfather and a great halo of orange gold light appeared above his head.  The party called out (or maybe it was Toral) and the two joined in the room with the brass embossed with writing.  Gail recognized it for magical writing.  These were spells he could transcribe but it would take several days.  The party wanted to leave desperately.  Finally Z communicated with Fabrino to ask his goat.  The goat was a very special scapegoat capable of answering yes/no questions.  Fabrino asked if the root they sought was within 200'.  He then strangled and disembowelled the goat.  The bright yellowish tinge said "yes."  So the party decided to risk the tumbling dungeon a little longer and try to find the root.

Some Thoughts

Yeah, getting them into the dungeon was sort of a push by me.  The more experienced roleplayers were a little resistant.  The youngin's were "Yeah, let's check out this dungeon!" 

That first session was a little slow, and it worked out just wrong that we had to end the session just after the first dungeon rotation.  I was starting to rethink the whole design of the place.

But the second session.  Whooweee, it creeped them out!  When the witch cast sleep on them they all started talking about rolling up a new characters.  I didn't know what to do.  I kept rolling reaction dice for the witches (there were actually two) and they kept coming up, uncertain.  So I figured they weren't sure who the party was, how powerful they were, or why they were there.

I waited about a minute thinking "What would she do?"  This configuration had a chute down, but also stairs down to water.  Perfect.  I knew she would drag them down, their armor clanging onto each step and throw them in to drown, the splash heard up above (I ruled magical sleep is deeper than normal, deep enough to drown in).  Gail was freaking out.

I also figured that one of the figures lying prone in that room was a witch.  The other witch was on the ceiling holding ZZ.  When the party decided not to spring the trap I suppose I could have had them kill Toral, but I rolled a reaction and decided the witches would bide their time, maybe re-memorize spells and left.  Is this illusionism?  Am I controlling what happens too much?  I don't know?  I just kept thinking, having two witches walk out and start chatting with the party will not be frightening.  Likewise, an all out assault will get them as dead as those giant scorpions.

About that time a player showed up with his brother.  He said, "Hey, it's my brother's birthday can he have a talking dog?" (it become my tradition to give folks a perk on their birthday)  So, I showed him my hard core perks to pick from and he chose the Scapegoat!  Later I asked "so, how was your first time playing D&D?"  "He said it was depressing."  Acch, I might have turned someone away with the creepiness factor. o.O

Having the spell research rules clearer was cool too.  Gail was really conflicted about staying to put spells in his spellbook, or getting the heck out of dodge.

As far as the dungeon.  Man, I need a little model to keep that thing straight in my head.  I don't know if you could market a module like this, it is hard to follow where each room is and where the fixed features are in each state.

Now to see if party can figure out how to get out. There are only four positions . . . that is unless they pull and leave that switch down.  Then the dungeon tumbles on the other axis (yeah, I added that because I had the whole thing down in my head).

If you made it this far, thanks, here's a little Joesky (too long already): an entire city covered in volcanic ash, then lava.  Years later, underground water washes away the ash, leaving access to the buried city and all its perfectly preserved contents.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spell Reseach Costs - Fillable PDF

I didn't know that OpenOffice could create fillable pdfs!  Well, now I do. I swear this hobby is turning me into a more efficient office drone.  Anyway, if you want to give something simple to your players so they know what choices they have in dealing with spell transcription and creation you could give them something like this:
This does assume a quill of some sort and ink, but heck you could say that is just normal equipment if you don't want to get fancy.  Then fill in whatever values you want for money and time.  The last entry, new spells, has an extra box in case you want to require the use of a library or guild resources.  The last box should be a percentage chance of succeeding at creating the new spell.

You could do this for potions too, I suppose.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Visual Spell Transcription Rule

I want to make how spell transcription works in my world clear enough that players start making decisions and goals based on that knowledge.  What do you think of this:
I might add a little text under it.  The quill and the vial mean that it requires blood and feathers from a creature of HD equivalent to the spell level, per Talysman's awesome idea (in the comments).  I might say to my players: "more and more powerful creatures," because they don't know what "hit die" are.

One thing I want to add but don't know how to rule on is for creating an entirely new spell.  I don't know what it should cost.  I don't want players to have to wait for 7th level either, a S&W style campaign will be near its endgame by then, no?  Besides one of the coolest things about D&D were all those named spells. I want my players to create some spells.

But, do they need access to a library?  Access to a tower (but that would, again, be endgame, no?)?

Update: 1) I'm confusing my systems, S&W goes to twentieth, oe is the one capping out around 10th.  Odd that some of my conceptions of the game I want to play are sliding more and more toward some of the original aspects of those rules.

2) I'm thinking it should be cheaper to put a spell into a book than the other way, to encourage players looking for more, but I'm not sure.

Update 2: How's this for a second draft (I changed everything to sp because of my game's silver standard):

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Serendipity IV

Man, I love this one.  Too bad his clothes aren't a little older in style (I tried editing them) or it would make a nice dungeon-exploring mage.  Oh well, maybe it's a CoC character just before his doom.
Bend Bars/Lift Gates, baby.
Umm, yeah, fairy tales are brutal, that's a dervish drowning pigs.
Here's a shark-riding monkey as a palate cleanser.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Towards a DIY Dungeon

I'd seen PocketMods before, had even played around with putting my houserules on them.  I like what Risus has been doing with them, but Stuart's use of the form as a mini-module blew me away.  And I'm not talking about his particular dungeon but more the way he utilized the form.  It was clean, organized- one map level, one page for a brief key-- and simple.  I know I wished for a comic book dungeon before-- something cheap and cool that non-gamers might pick up.  This seems to head in that direction.  Just one sheet of paper, not too big a deal if you lose it.  You could carry it around in your pocket at school.

Anyway, I was thinking this could be perfect for an OSR version of B1.  You have a 3 level module.  First level is fleshed out.  Second level is mapped, but the learning DM has to pick encounters/treasures from a list in the back. That list is very interesting and evocative in a sentence apiece. Third level is just some graph paper with marks where the stairs come down so they can draw the level themselves.

I was playing around with my EZ-Map dungeon thinking a simple, straight forward map might be good for that purpose.  To make a long story short, I think I'd have to start fresh to make a good 2 level dungeon that fit in the size of the pocket mod pages.  But I figured I'd share what I worked up:

I used Roger's stairs and made a version of his Elvis doors (how can you not use them with a name like that).

I see what I'm guessing are Illustrator brushes on a lot of your maps and geomorphs, so I tried emulating it by copying and pasting a PD texture.  Old school baby. But, it looks pretty busy. 

Another mapping bit, JD Jarvis hepped me to ceiling heights on maps, said he saw them on caver maps.  Since then I saw that some of the Harn mappers have actually used them too:
Hard to see here, but I like the little stalactite symbol they use to indicate this.

By the way, I really recommend checking out the downloads at  Especially the 3 Harn Pottage collections and the Fortified Manor by Kerry Mould (scroll down a bit).

That manor is sort of the product I always wanted-- lots of detail cooked in, by nothing that has to impinge on my campaign world-- but the industry just doesn't seem to want to make.

Update: I got a better pic.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Zak's cool whispering starfish oracle got me thinking about other possible voices. So, for your oracles, summoned spirits, computer AIs, magical swords, and giant robots here's a list.  There are 45 entries, you can cut out 15 you don't like and roll a d30.  Or I can, um, try to think of 55 more.

Yeah, your mom is in there too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Serendipity III

Bored out of my chimichanga. Drinking some adult beverages and reading Mr. Grohes' collection of Greyhawk lore. Not bored by that, just to clarify, the circle of eight and all those names, Robilar, Terik, Tenser, are like a mythos to me.


Hope I'm not stepping on any of you A-Z blogger toes with this D post.  It's just that I have the time today and have players that have the plague, so I need to explore disease mechanics a little.

First, I'm an idiot, when I posted a little about disease previously, I didn't realize that the Blackmoor digest has a table with more info on the very next page!  My only excuse is that I was in a rush to prepare for the session and was reading it in pdf so it wasn't as obvious.

Unfortunately, it didn't matter because the table didn't answer some of those questions I had anyway.  In fact, the one thing the text was clear on, chance of catching the disease, the table contradicts-- 90% vs 1%.  The only way I can understand this is that the lower number applies to player characters and the higher to anyone else once pcs are infected.  But that's a guess, it doesn't say that.

Ok, establishing that, no, those rules aren't going to help me as written, let's forge on.

Different Rules for Sieges
Disease may be a perfect example of how you might want different mechanics for different subsystems in a game.  What I realized looking at the rules in Blackmoor is that much of the subject is seen through the lens of sieges and armies.  Which makes sense, descending from Chainmail, if you're fighting with massed forces it would be nice to have some rules for how disease would spread through the ranks and weaken those forces by attrition.

But those concerns are different from my concerns in dealing with an adventuring party.  I think you might need at least slightly different rules for the two situations.

Disease and Your Character
Let's think about how a disease affects pcs.  It can't be immediately fatal or it becomes identical to a poison.  Once contracted a lot of real diseases take about 12 days, almost two weeks, to fully manifest themselves.

What about symptoms?  Some fantasy diseases have odd symptoms, but with natural diseases catching it usually means you're weakened severely or bed-ridden.  So if we are going to have mechanics for diseases that are reminiscent of real diseases the character:
  • contracts it or not
  • for a few weeks is probably too weak to adventure
  • might die if not cured in those weeks
While party travel might spread the disease to cities or troop concentrations leading to great repercussions to the campaign world, it looks like disease for a party is just a matter of "you're out of action until we get you cured." 

Does Disease Matter?
If a party is far from civilisation or help, this could lead to some dramatic tension, especially if the disease is spreading through the party.  But I think that would the rare case.  Cure disease is available to 5th level clerics in most old school rules systems (6th for Moldvay).  So, unless your campaign world has few of that level cleric around, disease becomes an minor inconvenience, a money sink.

Well, unless the possibility of the city being infected mentioned above, is the party's home base settlement.  That could cause drama, adventure hooks, and provide an even bigger money sink. So, is the only reason to mess with non-fantastic diseases at the party level to spread it to their base of operations?

Some diseases would allow for characters to be carriers (think Typhoid Mary) and this would make the likelihood of them spreading the disease to cities and troops much higher.  But on the other hand, it would make it much less likely for players to realize that they are, in fact, the spreaders of the pestilence.  And that would make it hard to engage the drama and hooks mentioned above if players don't feel responsible.

Scars and the Aftermath
Some diseases can leave permanent scars or effects (think small pox).  It is possible that a cure disease will save a players life without preventing these.  So disease might become more frightening if it could permanently reduce a character's charisma (as Blackmoor suggests), blind them, or leave some other mark.  But I have a hard time believing a holy person could lay on hands, curing a sickness and still leave these marks of the sickness.  Maybe.  I suppose it's how miraculous you conceive the divine magic in your campaign.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Silhouettes VII

Had a lot of free time today so I went back through a bunch of images I'd squirreled away but never made into silhouettes.  Here they are:
With this bard, and that squat guy up there representing a gnome I now have satisfied the most important needs for silhouettes in game design and will stop creating them.  Just kidding.  These are public domain, use 'em or lose 'em.

Castles in the Sea

Maud and Mishka Petersham seemed to like a certain stylized kind of castle and waves that I like too.  These are all from Tales of Enchantment from Spain (1920) .

Here is an intial:
Here is an arch leading to one:
And here is a big color pic.  Unfortunately the scan of the book isn't too good.  I'm sure it would look better in person:
In the book these are called a castle in one instance and a palace in another.  They seem to me like ornate towers and I imagine they might hop from place to place magically.